University propaganda ministries (as I've heard an employee of one refer to such operations) churn out tons of feel-good stuff about their great faculty, but Halle is vastly beyond that status. I think the article basically does him justice, and it has some real substance. In particular, there's a lot about Donca Steriade in the piece, a former student of Halle's now back at MIT.
Two years ago, a lot of virtual ink was spilled in posts on this blog about 'opacity' (start here and work back). The core issue here is whether phonology is derivational, involving a set of discrete steps, or can be done in a single step. Halle was central to developing the derivational view and Optimality Theory (OT) provided the monostratal challenge. Steriade didn't found OT, but she certainly helped lead the fight against the traditional view. Here's what she is quoted as saying in the article:
We may indeed run though a sequence of computations while turning underlying words into sounds, she suggests, so in this regard, while optimality theorists “hoped they were going to eliminate the view Morris has, it’s become obvious that’s not possible.”She's hardly the first to concede the point, but this is the most direct admission I've seen. But Steriade …
believes there is still a “fundamental conceptual difference” between the views. While Halle describes words becoming sounds through a more arbitrary, ad-hoc series of conventions that evolve in a given language, Optimality Theory asserts that the conflicting preferences that apply to pronunciation are not arbitrary at all.I don't have time to unpack that point right now, but will try to get back to it later. But maybe this post (or its title) will provoke some reaction.